As national controversy swirls around Confederate monuments, at least two are located on former Civil War battlefields in Buckhead, and they may face different futures.
The two monuments – one on private land at Piedmont Hospital and one on public land — refer to the “valor” of both sides of the war.
Confederate monuments on public land could be altered or moved by the city, depending on recommendations from an advisory committee that Mayor Kasim Reed formed in response to the national debate.
The local monument that sits on public land is located on Peachtree Battle Avenue across from E. Rivers Elementary School. The other is located on private land and owned by the private Piedmont Hospital, but it was temporarily moved to storage because of the hospital’s expansion.
The seven-member Atlanta advisory committee will make its recommendations within 70 days and will be in place after Sept. 4, Reed has said.
“We want to ensure that we approach this endeavor in a thoughtful matter,” Reed said in a statement.
John Green, a member of the Old Guard of Atlanta, which erected the monument on Peachtree Battle Avenue, said he believes it should stay, but fears it won’t.
“I hope the mayor doesn’t see that one, or he may take it down, too,” Green said.
Green said the monument is owned by the Old Guard, but sits on city property. If told they had to move it, he doesn’t know where it would end up, but hopes it does not come to that.
“You can’t erase history. I don’t see any need in taking the history and trying to destroy it or hide it,” Green said.
Among common suggestions about ways to deal with exiting monuments that some residents find offensive is to add context to them on site, or to move them to museums, where context can be added.
After the 2015 Charleston, S.C., shootings triggered a debate on the display of the Confederate flag and on Confederate monuments, the Atlanta History Center, headquartered in Buckhead on West Paces Ferry Road, published the “Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide.”
“In the wake of the Charleston shootings and the renewed controversy over the Confederate flag, we felt it would be appropriate to make one,” said Sheffield Hale, the museum’s president and CEO.
While some early monuments were erected to honor dead Confederate soldiers, most monuments were created during the Jim Crow era, which lasted from 1877 to the 1950s, “to stand in opposition to racial equality,” the guide states.
The guide recommends context be added to these monuments if they are not removed.
“If the monuments are not removed, then they need to be reinterpreted in an accurate historical context which plainly states why they were erected and what they were intended to represent,” the guide says.
The Atlanta History Center will be doing just that to two artifacts that have at different times been a symbol for the Confederacy.
The museum now owns and will display the “Solomon Luckie” streetlamp that until recently was displayed in Underground Atlanta. It was proclaimed the “Eternal Flame of the Confederacy” during the 1939 “Gone with the Wind” movie premiere celebrations in Atlanta.
The streetlamp is named for an African-American barber who was killed when an artillery shell fired during the Union Army’s shelling of Atlanta in 1864 ricocheted off the streetlamp and struck him. The museum will add context and history to the lamp, as the only plaques on the streetlamp now are about the Confederacy.
“We will talk about that and the irony of how it became a symbol for the Confederacy, given its history,” Hale said.
The museum will also display the cyclorama painting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, which has been altered at various times to favor both Northern and Southern biases about the war. The exhibit is planned to open in the fall of 2018 and will explain that context.
In response to the current debate, the museum will host a free panel discussion, called “Confederate Memorials: De-Mythologizing the Iconography of the South,” on Sept. 11 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Margaret Mitchell House, 979 Crescent Ave., in Midtown. To make reservations, visit atlantahistorycenter.com.
The Atlanta History Center has its own ties to erecting Confederate monuments. In 1944, when known as Atlanta Historical Society, the center erected the “Battle of Peachtree Creek” monument that is now owned by Piedmont Hospital.
The monument states, “This memorial to American valor is dedicated to the participants in the Battle of Peachtree Creek,” referring to a battle that took place in 1864.
It is now in storage, but it will be reassembled when the hospital’s expansion is complete in 2020, said Max Davis, a senior communications specialist at the hospital.
Gould Hagler, a Dunwoody resident who authored a book about the state’s Confederate monuments, said he is happy to hear that the monument will return.
“I’m glad it’s going to be back at Piedmont Hospital, because that is the best place for it since the battle actually occurred there,” said Halger, who wrote “Georgia’s Confederate Monuments: In Honor of a Fallen Nation.”
The other monument in Buckhead, the one owned by the Old Guard, was erected in 1935 and says, in part, “This memorial is a tribute to American valor, which they of the blue and they of the gray had as a common heritage.” The monument also mentions the soldiers who fought in the American Revolution, the Spanish-American War and World War I.
Neither Buckhead monument focuses solely on soldiers on the Confederate side. Hagler, who traveled across the state for two decades researching for the book, said that is common.
“It’s not at all unusual for the monuments to have the theme of reconciliation,” Hagler said. “The Piedmont Park monument is the most famous, but it’s far from the only one. I think the men who built these monuments knew peace was better than war.”
Other nearby monuments include a stained-glass window at Rhodes Hall on Peachtree Street near Buckhead and several in Oakland Cemetery.
No Confederate monuments are located in Buckhead’s Atlanta Memorial Park, which was the site of a Civil War battle, but there are several historic markers there about the Civil War, said Catherine Spillman, executive director of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy.